November 26, 2004

Anchor Aweigh


USAToday reported Wednesday: Rather: 'Time for me to move on.

Dan Rather, the CBS Evening News anchor conservatives loved to hate, was a network news survivor of the highest order: He lasted a record 24 years despite repeated attempts to unseat him by people inside and outside CBS. Rather, 73, said he will continue to work for CBS, as a correspondent for both editions of 60 Minutes.

But in the end, a single controversial story that Rather reported at the height of a brutal presidential contest, one that questioned President Bush's National Guard service during Vietnam, probably sped his departure. ...

Rather's departure could signal the rise and influence of politically motivated Internet "bloggers," who relentlessly attacked him and the documents that were used to back up his 60 Minutes story. Some political and media analysts have said the "Memogate" scandal damaged CBS News' reputation, especially among viewers in largely rural, conservative states -- the network's core audience. ...

As word spread Tuesday afternoon that Rather was stepping down, the anchor known for his quirky, folksy style addressed 200 CBS staff members -- some of them with tears in their eyes -- in his Evening News "fishbowl" in New York City. Dressed in a sweater, Rather said the time was right for him to go. But he also alluded to a possible driving force, the Guard scandal, which he referred to as the "hippopotamus in the room."

The scandal tainted what might have been an orderly transition from Rather to a new anchor, said Evening News producer Jim Murphy. "This thing obviously messed everything up. ... This has been a very trying time."

And from The New York Post: A Rather Ugly Exit. (Via Little Green Footballs)

In the face of compelling evidence that documents [memos] had been forged by a long-time Bush foe, Rather insisted instead that he was being targeted by enemies with political motives.

The anchor postured and preened and hemmed and hawed before admitting, not that the documents were fake, but that he had made "a mistake in judgment."

That's one way to put it.

Andy Rooney, Rather's curmudgeonly "60 Minutes" colleague, had a different take last week -- more blunt, and far more accurate: "I am very critical of some of the people at CBS who make it apparent what their political leanings are," he said. "That's what happened to this thing of Dan Rather's that got out. There's no question they wanted to run [the story] because it was negative towards Bush."

Rooney clocked it: Rather has it in for the Bush administration.

To cite just one of many examples, as war clouds gathered over Iraq in February 2003, Rather proudly aired an exclusive interview with Saddam Hussein — set up by lunatic-fringer Ramsey Clark and filmed by Saddam aides.

But he refused a White House offer of Condoleezza Rice to appear to rebut Saddam's comments.

UPDATE I: A good article at The Economist on this subject (which also features a cartoon that works well with our title): Dropping the anchorman. (Via InstaPundit)

All through the recent election campaign, the new media outsmarted the old media when it came to setting the news agenda. Republican strategists admit that the Swift Boat veterans' attacks on John Kerry, largely ignored by the old media, would never have got anywhere without the online Drudge Report. Drudge was also instrumental in turning the “60 Minutes” story into an embarrassment for the Democrats, not Mr Bush. Local bloggers also had an effect; in South Dakota, for instance, they repeatedly highlighted Tom Daschle's partisan record in Washington, DC, something that the Democratic Senate majority leader's friends in the local print media had never laboured to expose.

The bloggers have often been at their most devastating when they have been criticising the old media for bias.

UPDATE II -- November 29: This cartoon appears in today's (Tueday's) The Detroit News.

Posted by Forkum at November 26, 2004 01:22 PM